How the US Immigration System Works

How the US Immigration System Works | Green Card | Immigration Lawyer Reviews

When someone wants to immigrate to the United States, they need to understand how the legal US immigration system works.


There are different categories for visas, and the majority of applicants have family relationships, ties to an employer, or a need for humanitarian protection. Different categories for obtaining a visa have different requirements and offer different rights and responsibilities.


US Immigration System Nonimmigrant Visas

When any foreign national wants to travel to the United States, the US immigration system requires that they obtain a visa unless they are from one of the 39 countries that are part of the Visa Waiver Program. To understand this better, take a look at the following:

1. Visa Waiver Program

To obtain a visa waiver, the traveler needs to obtain an approved travel authorization before the trip using the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. It is necessary to have an electronic passport to use this program, and it can be obtained by filling out an online application.

Those who plan to travel to the US for tourism or business meetings can stay for up to 90 days without a visa. If the traveler is from a country that is not part of the Visa Waiver program, they need to choose a B-1 or B-2 visitor visa for travel or business.

2. Student and Vocational Training Visas

An international student can apply for this visa after being accepted by a school that is certified in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program. Students can apply for an F-1 visa for full-time international students pursuing academics or an M-1 visa for a full-time international student pursuing vocational studies. There is also a J-1 visa for foreign nationals approved to participate in work or study-based exchange programs form the US Immigration System.

“Contact an attorney for proper guidance on how to navigate the Immigration process in the U.S.”

3. NAFTA Professional Visa

The NAFTA Professional Visa is a type of visa is available to citizens of Canada and Mexico, and it grants temporary entry to work in business activities at a professional level for up to three years.

4. K-1 or Fiancé(e) Visa

If someone is engaged to a US citizen and plans to marry, the fiancé(e) who lives in the US can apply for this visa. Once the person arrives in the US, they have 90 days to marry.

US Immigration System Permanent Immigration

When people seek permanent immigration to the United States, there are a number of different visa categories, but there are only a few pathways. The primary pathways include family relationships, ties to employers, or the need for humanitarian protection. 

There are a few smaller groups, such as people who possess sought-after skills or who are selected in the green-card lottery. There are different requirements for different types of visas, and there are various limitations. In addition, they offer distinct rights and responsibilities.

How the US Immigration System Works
How the US Immigration System Works |

Permanent Immigration

Permanent immigration is the part of the US immigration system where immigrants who are seeking permanent residence in the United States apply for a green card. The green card gives them lawful permanent resident status, and they can remain indefinitely as long as they aren’t convicted of a crime that results in their removal. 

Immigrants who possess green cards can apply for US citizenship after five years, or they can apply after three years if they marry a US citizen. 

1. Family Ties

Family ties account for around two-thirds of legal immigration into the United States. When people use family ties for permanent immigration, there are categories that are unlimited and those that are limited. US citizens and green card holders can petition to bring in relatives. 

A US citizen can sponsor their spouse, unmarried children who are younger than 21, and parents for a green card. There are no limits to the number of people who can apply each year for this type of application. 

For other types of family visas, there are 226,000 green cards reserved each year. They include the adult children and siblings of US citizens and the spouses and unmarried minor or adult children of people who hold green cards.

2. Employment Ties

Immigrants looking for permanent legal immigration based on employment ties can apply for one of the 140,000 green cards available each year within the US Immigration System. These are split into five categories, including the following: 

3. Humanitarian Immigrants

This category of the US immigration system includes refugees and asylees. Refugees are admitted to the United States due to a “well-founded fear of persecution” in their home country. They may face persecution based on race, social group, political opinions, religion, or national origin. This type of immigrant applies from a transition country outside of the United States and their home country. 

Whether their application is approved is determined by the degree of the risk and whether their group is of special concern to the United States. The number of refugee admissions is determined annually by the president and Congress. 

Asylum is available to people who are already in the United States and looking for protection based on the same factors as are available to refugees. There are no limits to the number of people who may apply, but they need to apply within a year of arriving in the United States. People in either of these groups can become lawful permanent residents (LPRs) one year after being accepted as a refugee or receiving asylum. 

4. The Diversity Visa Program

This program was created in 1990 as part of the Immigration Act. It is designed to encourage immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. Applicants need to have a high school education or the equivalent, or they must have two years working in a profession that requires two years of training or experience.

5. Other Humanitarian Relief

The following are other types of humanitarian relief:

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Our thoughts

The US immigration system can be complex, and laws change from time to time. If you or someone you know is looking to immigrate to the United States legally, you can request legal advice from N400 Harbor Immigration Law. Schedule a virtual consultation via Zoom to learn what your options are.

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